God created sex—and not as an afterthought.
The first page of the Bible establishes humanity’s image-bearing identity as male and female sexual beings. The second page poetically elaborates on the activity such sexual identities make possible:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. —Genesis 2:24
Through the rest of the biblical narrative—after sin and death become reality—we see sexual identity corrupted and the sexual union abused, misused, and debased, even as it is celebrated as the principal metaphor of God’s redemptive relationship to humanity.
In short, sex—the whole of the thoughts, words, and deeds that flow out of the desires of our embodied existence as a male or female image-bearer—is complex, and laden with meaning. However, we believe that meaning can be helpfully simplified to what we call “the Four P’s”: pleasure, procreation, protection, and proclamation.
PLEASURE — Yes, sex is pleasurable, and sexual desire is God’s idea—He owns the intellectual property on it. Within God’s design of a covenantal marriage relationship between a husband and a wife, sexual activity is intended to be greatly pleasurable (Song of Solomon 7:6-10), which reflects the pleasures of eternal relationship with the Triune God. He is good, He is perfect, He is pleasing (Romans 12:2). At His right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
The dominant culture around us talks a lot, and insanely loudly, about what it pushes as sexual pleasure, but that’s where the world’s offering stops. And even the “pleasure” that is sold to us, whether in a sitcom, romcom, hit song, and especially in a porn scene, essentially elevates a brief, orgasmic rush that is more a disconnected release of frustration or warped anticipation than an experience of intimate delight. The world’s promise of pleasure is cheap and short-lived. It’s based on selfish taking rather than sacrificial giving and finds its end quickly when that physical high subsides and leaves the inner person grieving and unsatisfied.
Sadly, we also find distorted messages about pleasure in the Church. Some believe it is not a divine intention of the sexual union at all and we just shouldn’t talk about it. Others disguise and yet reinforce the selfish mentality of the world through objectifying language and lopsided teaching where even sex in marriage is framed as a transactional relationship of owing or taking.
PROCREATION — God blessed the sexual union of a husband and wife and instructed them to be fruitful and bring forth new life (Genesis 1:28). This aspect is ultimately a reflection of God’s creative nature and a representation of His covenantal love, which produces new life. Not only the new life of a child, that the sexual union can yield; the one flesh union is its own mysterious new entity and is continually being renewed and developed in delight.
The world’s story? No procreation—not a lot of pregnancies or births in porn or music videos, nor any emotional life-giving to speak of. Instead of leading to new and renewed life, the world’s vision of transactional and momentary pleasure-seeking leads, as the proverb has it, “down to the chambers of death” (Proverbs 7:27).
Oh, and about placing pleasure before procreation in this list? While some religious traditions prefer to make procreation primary lest pleasure receive too much airtime, we just can’t help but see something different in the scriptures. God created man and woman first to delight each other, out of which satisfaction a family can be birthed. Even His design of our anatomy and the mechanics of the act speak to a certain order; pleasure… then procreation. Indeed, it makes all the more evident evil’s distortion of this beauty when pleasure does not lead to ongoing life-giving in relationship… or, worse, when violence and violation eclipse the experience altogether and attempt to rob us of the ability to celebrate procreation as a miraculous gift (Psalm 127:3).
PROTECTION — Ongoing sexual intimacy between a husband and wife strengthens their relationship and guards against temptations outside of it (1 Corinthians 7:3-5), a reflection of the shelter we find in loving relationship with God (Psalm 17:8). This may be the most obvious and devastating contrast. No protection in the world’s story—quite the opposite, human beings with souls and dignity are promiscuously used and abused, objectified and stripped of the very personhood a committed, covenantal sexual union is designed to protect and empower.
PROCLAMATION — As with virtually all aspects of the natural world, sexual activity proclaims God’s great love. Fidelity in the marital union proclaims the faithfulness and steadfast love of Jesus for His Church (Ephesians 5:25-32), even after hurts, disappointments, betrayals, and infidelities (Hosea 2). The story of sex is ultimately the story of God’s love for His people.
From the world? No proclamation of a beautiful, divine, self-giving and pleasure-producing love story—a sexualized culture just gives us portrayals of debased self-gratification.
Our sexual stewardship is telling a story!
That’s great news—there’s profound meaning in our sexual identity, our sexual desire, and our sexual activity. Which means nothing is in vain; our joys and our pain and disappointments are pointing to something purposeful, something promising, some redemptive reality yet to be revealed.
And though we’ve discussed these “Four P’s” primarily in the context of marital sexual union, here’s some good news for you singles out there, too: these apply to you as well—right now—not some distant day in the future that sometimes seems like it will never arrive. Because in our hoping, looking, waiting for union in relationship, our choices now also constitute “sexual activity”—the stewarding of your mind and its thoughts, your hearts and its desires, your body and its actions (or the act of refraining from certain actions).
In waiting for the union to come, there is a distinct pleasure of anticipation and freedom in singleness; a procreative (read: life-giving) element of being prepared, healed, matured ahead of being joined to another or an opportunity to share the life (John 10:10) found in Christ in all contexts; a protective purpose in not being sexually united with another outside of covenant, with all of the physical and emotional distress that can bring; and a proclamatory function in pointing others to the Redeemer God Who has betrothed you to Himself, is preparing the wedding and the marriage, and will return to usher you to the feast (John 14:2-3; Revelation 19:7).
It’s an epic story, and you have a place in it—today. And the best news? It will end “happily ever after.” In the end.